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Rote Repertoire – teaching a healthy technique and reading at the same time

Establishing a healthy technique in our students is a vital part of our teaching right from the earliest lessons. We have all experienced how much easier it is to create good habits in the beginning than it is to break bad habits later.

Teaching our students to read notation is another important facet of lessons. There is a huge amount of information for students to decode on the page: which hand plays what, the pitch, duration and register of the notes, articulation, dynamics, voicing and balance, interdependence of the hands and choreography!

In a reading based approach to teaching, students tend to be so overwhelmed by the reading process that they can't take their eyes off the page - which probably looks to them something like the score at right! They can't spare any brain space for thinking about what their hands are doing or how they are are producing the desired sounds.

This is where rote repertoire comes to the rescue. I've written and presented about the benefits of using rote pieces to teach technique on a number of occasions (Teaching-by-Rote and More-resources-for-Rote-Teaching). I've also written about how students can actually learn a lot about reading while learning pieces by rote (Learning-by-Osmosis-from-Rote-Pieces). Since my last blog post on the topic there has been an exciting new development: Samantha Coates has introduced BlitzBooks Rote Repertoire, rote pieces that also teach reading!

Samantha's concept is brilliant, even though it sounds like a contradiction in terms. Each piece appears in three levels. Level one, the easiest version of the piece, is taught entirely by rote. This means that the student is able to look at what their hands are doing on the keyboard, providing the perfect opportunity to focus on a natural hand shape, good alignment of the finger, hand and forearm and the choreography. Once level one has been mastered, the student is shown the score and can see the visual representation of what they have just played. The introduction of level two and level three of the piece is where many reading skills are introduced. Samantha will explain all of this at the workshop, but you can see a sneak preview here, in her video.

The pieces have all been written with the idea of teaching a healthy technique in mind. In most cases, the hands are positioned away from the middle of the piano so that students can focus on correct alignment of finger, hand and forearm. Many of the pieces are written in keys that place the longer fingers on the black keys, which is brilliant for fostering a good natural hand position. Such attention to detail makes these pieces an excellent choice from my perspective as a teacher of the Taubman Approach.

Pieces in the Rote Repertoire collection are suitable for students in their first two years of lessons and also for students who have been learning for longer but need to improve their reading skills and/or their technique, or who want to add some mores pieces to their 30 or 40 Piece Challenge. They are perfect to use with transfer students.

I'm excited to be co-presenting a workshop with Samantha on this fabulous new repertoire at Masson Music in Brisbane on Sunday 26th August at 1.30 pm. I’ll show you how to use these pieces to teach healthy alignment and how to have ten equally strong fingers.

Here's the booking link:

A workshop like this would be brilliant for teachers who are just starting out as well as more experienced teachers. If you come along, please do come and say hello.

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